"Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass" is Simon Armitage's tongue-in-cheek tale of the battle between humanity and nature. The poem's speaker heads out into his garden, chainsaw in hand, to destroy some ornamental grass. Although his powerful chainsaw seems like "overkill," it turns out that even its destructive blade is no match for the grass's persistence: before long, everything the speaker thinks he's killed grows right back again. This poem suggests that human beings can never beat nature's quiet power, no matter how advanced our technology becomes. This poem first appeared in Armitage's 2002 collection The Universal Home Doctor.
It seemed an ...
... the dry links.
From the summerhouse, ...
... . . .
from there, I ...
... gunned the trigger.
No gearing up ...
... into the brain.
I let it ...
... in its throat.
The pampas grass ...
I touched the ...
... dark, secret warmth.
To clear a ...
... from the earth.
Wanting to finish ...
... it at that.
In the weeks ...
... the midday moon.
Back below stairs ...
... as it got.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Interview with Armitage — Watch a brief interview with Armitage in which he discusses his poetic philosophy.
Armitage's Official Website — Visit Armitage's website to learn more about his recent work.
A Brief Biography — Learn more about Armitage's life and work via the Poetry Foundation.
Armitage as Laureate — Learn more about Armitage's position and duties as Poet Laureate of the UK.
What Is Pampas Grass? — Learn more about pampas grass, at once an invasive species and a modern home decor trend.
1It seemed an unlikely match. All winter unplugged,
2grinding its teeth in a plastic sleeve, the chainsaw swung
3nose-down from a hook in the darkroom
4under the hatch in the floor. When offered the can
5it knocked back a quarter-pint of engine oil
6and juices ran from its joints and threads,
7oozed across the guide-bar and the maker’s name,
8into the dry links.
9From the summerhouse, still holding one last gulp
10of last year's heat behind its double doors, and hung
11with the weightless wreckage of wasps and flies,
12mothballed in spider’s wool . . .
13from there, I trailed the day-glo orange power line
14the length of the lawn and the garden path,
15fed it out like powder from a keg, then walked
16back to the socket and flicked the switch, then walked again
17and coupled the saw to the flex — clipped them together.
18Then dropped the safety catch and gunned the trigger.
19No gearing up or getting to speed, just an instant rage,
20the rush of metal lashing out at air, connected to the mains.
21The chainsaw with its perfect disregard, its mood
22to tangle with cloth, or jewellery, or hair.
23The chainsaw with its bloody desire, its sweet tooth
24for the flesh of the face and the bones underneath,
25its grand plan to kick back against nail or knot
26and rear up into the brain.
27I let it flare, lifted it into the sun
28and felt the hundred beats per second drumming in its heart,
29and felt the drive-wheel gargle in its throat.
30The pampas grass with its ludicrous feathers
31and plumes. The pampas grass, taking the warmth and light
32from cuttings and bulbs, sunning itself,
33stealing the show with its footstools, cushions and tufts
34and its twelve-foot spears.
35This was the sledgehammer taken to crack the nut.
36Probably all that was needed here was a good pull or shove
37or a pitchfork to lever it out at its base.
38Overkill. I touched the blur of the blade
39against the nearmost tip of a reed — it didn’t exist.
40I dabbed at a stalk that swooned, docked a couple of heads,
41dismissed the top third of its canes with a sideways sweep
42at shoulder height — this was a game.
43I lifted the fringe of undergrowth, carved at the trunk —
44plant-juice spat from the pipes and tubes
45and dust flew out as I ripped into pockets of dark, secret warmth.
46To clear a space to work
47I raked whatever was severed or felled or torn
48towards the dead zone under the outhouse wall, to be fired.
49Then cut and raked, cut and raked, till what was left
50was a flat stump the size of a barrel lid
51that wouldn’t be dug with a spade or prised from the earth.
52Wanting to finish things off I took up the saw
53and drove it vertically downwards into the upper roots,
54but the blade became choked with soil or fouled with weeds,
55or what was sliced or split somehow closed and mended behind,
56like cutting at water or air with a knife.
57I poured barbecue fluid into the patch
58and threw in a match — it flamed for a minute, smoked
59for a minute more, and went out. I left it at that.
60In the weeks that came new shoots like asparagus tips
61sprang up from its nest and by June
62it was riding high in its saddle, wearing a new crown.
63Corn in Egypt. I looked on
64from the upstairs window like the midday moon.
65Back below stairs on its hook, the chainsaw seethed.
66I left it a year, to work back through its man-made dreams,
67to try to forget.
68The seamless urge to persist was as far as it got.